Monday, October 21, 2019

Random Energy Drain thought

Nearly a decade ago (wow!) I suggested an alternate way to handle undead's energy drain (and swords of life stealing etc.) would be to let the PCs keep their level, and all the spells/day, chances to hit, saves, skills that come with it. They just lose the hit die and associated hit points that go with it.

I never did implement that idea.

Now, I've got another idea that is also worth considering. Energy drain doesn't sap levels, but it does sap XP. So a 6th level Fighter that is energy drained drops from however much XP they had to 24,000xp (half way from 5th to 6th) but keeps the hit points, fighting ability, and saves of a 6th level character. It just takes them a lot longer to level up to 7th. Getting level drained again would drop them to 12,000xp, halfway between 4th and 5th. And if they get down to halfway between 1st and 2nd and get energy drained again, they die and rise the next night as undead themselves.

The penalty is pretty big, but retaining all the level abilities would allow them to keep adventuring with their companions. Also, with my rule of "you keep your level when you die and roll up a new PC" it would work better.


  1. Honestly, I'm fine with leaving out energy drain altogether. There aren't many monsters in literature or movies that drain life force as it is. Maybe the occasional B-movie alien (The Crawling Eye comes to mind), but not the undead.

    Barrow-wights in Tolkien don't drain life force, they try to lull the hobbits to sleep, dress them in burial shrouds, and try to make them repose forever in their tombs. If you want to make wights true to their source, their special power should be a sleep spell; if you want to make them scary on top of that, have them destroy armor (a la rust monsters) by transforming it into useless gowns and tunics.

    Wraiths and specters? Those are Nazgûl. They're inimical to life, but they don't drain life. They spread fear and pestilence. Their swords are poisonous. Give them a terrifying aura and a poisonous touch (and if you want spectres to be less like the Witch-King of Angmar and more like Scorpion from Mortal Kombat, add to their profile at-will dimension doors and sometimes being on fire).

    Vampires? Blood drinkers, 'nuff said. Lots of other critters in D&D have a blood-drain ability where they latch on for automatic round-to-round damage; for a vampire, this should both heal the monster and carry with it the same power to "turn" the victim as a lycanthrope (either when half the victim's hp are gone as in basic, or using Arneson's "three hits and you're a flunky" rule).

    That's how I run 'em, at any rate.

  2. I understand why people don't like it. It is a metagame effect. Rather than enforce some sort of existential horror in the character through game mechanics, it makes the PLAYERS worried about losing their hard earned XP.

    What I like about my new idea is that it retains that metagame fear of undead, which let's face it, makes them scarier than if I just had to role-play being afraid of ghosts and ghouls. And mentioning ghouls, yes, paralysis is also pretty scary, so some of these other options you suggest might also work. But energy drain really hurts.

    Also, it can be beneficial to the fiction in the way I run my game. If a PC dies or is retired, the replacement gets to start at the same level as the old PC. So if a PC gets level drained now, there's incentive for the player to retire the character, especially the higher level they are. And it can be explained in the fiction of the game as "they were just so horrified by the experience" or something like that.